Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Street Fighter Tests Russian Martial Art Systema

Filmed at the Systema School of Mikhail Ryabko by Systema Miami.

  This clips starts AFTER almost 2 minutes of hard striking by the same guy. Him and his friend wanted to see if Systema is real. They were experienced street fighters from Moscow. They were allowed to hit a couple guys hard to see how we take strikes with breathing and relaxation and then they were given a couple 'gentle' strikes by Mikhail Ryabko. He used just the right amount of power to let them "understand" yet let them keep their "dignity". At the end both guys were very interested and wanted to learn more about Systema. Mikhail converted aggressiveness and bullying into interest and respect. A very powerful lesson for any martial arts teacher out there.


Clip sourced from Systema Miami:

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Monday, 20 May 2013

A Systema Seminar Message from Emmanuel Manolakakis

The following clip is a video message from Senior Systema Instructor Emmanuel Manolakakis just prior to the conduction of a seminar in May of 2012.

Emmanuel is the Owner & Chief Instructor of the Fight Club Martial Arts and Fitness Centre in Toronto. Emmanuel has spent the last sixteen years focusing on Systema under the tutelage of Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Ryabko. Information can be found about Emmanuel and the Fight Club at: 

He was also one of my teachers, who had a tremendous positive influence on my journey.

Thankyou Manny,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A Question of Faith by Systema Instructor Martin Wheeler

A common question is: do you have to be Orthodox Christian or even religious in order to be good at Systema? The answer is no. But the concept of faith and religious philosophy in Systema is an intriguing one.

What is the purpose of faith in Systema other than the well known health and well-being benefits? I think there are many, and they are certainly worth exploring, as the heart of the art is more than certainly rooted in religious philosophy.

To me it seems likely that the concept of Systema has been around for a very long time, a lot longer than the name Systema itself. The art we are learning today is simply too vast to have evolved from an amalgamation of ideas that have only existed since the Cold War.

Historically, it is believed that centuries ago when the ancient warriors left the Russian battlefields, some entered the churches and monasteries to atone for their battlefield experiences. Out of this mix of warrior arts and Christian philosophy, the art that is handed down to us from Mikhail Ryabko was likely born.

When I first discovered Systema, I was immediately struck by its relaxed approach to combat. The other thing that was mostly lacking in the fighting arts that I had studied, was its deep philosophy. A philosophy that not only guides your actions, but more importantly, can guide your entire life.

Despite the amount of movement explored in Systema training (which is far more than in any art I can think of) movement is only one percent of Systema training. The majority of Systema is philosophy. The way you think and feel reflects directly in how you move and interact with others. Fear of death is the fear that rules all our fears, and studying Systema is a pathway to exploring those fears and overcoming them. In doing so, removing any doubts and obstacles as to how and when you act and react and more importantly what you feel. If you can remove the fear of death, it changes your perspective on the world.

On a professional level to see the world differently from others is a definite advantage. As a non-professional, it is no less important to remove fear, especially the ultimate fear. The fear of death. Nothing does that more effectively than religious training and the strengthening of your belief. 

Watching Vladimir’s or Mikhail’s relaxed effective work, it is easy to see the benefits of their devotion. But when I think one of the biggest lessons I had in recent years about the nature of relaxation and how an untrained psyche reacts, was passed to me by Father Vladimir, the head of the Orthodox Church in Toronto.

He is casually impressive, very friendly, affable and most human of men. I always come away with deep insights into life after any conversation with him that effect me to this day. But on one occasion it was his actions that spoke volumes, more than his words.

We had just come from a beautiful service he had presided over and were having lunch with the Vasilievs family on a hot muggy summer Toronto afternoon outside of a patio restaurant. Father Vladimir was sitting opposite, sweating uncomfortably in the heat and chatting animatedly.

... A fly landed on his forehead. Walked around to his eye brow and after a while, flew away. I was fixated by it. I know I would have reacted, flinched, brushed it away if it had landed on me. Something. But he just carried on chatting like nothing had happened. I know he knew the fly was there, I found myself wanting to reach across and brush it away. But Father Vladimir was unfazed, relaxed, and comfortable enough with his own psyche not to react to the annoying intrusion. That was very good Systema.

There is of course so much more to accepting God’s love than this, I present this is as just one very limited view point. But if considering Christian philosophy helps to interpret Systema, then maybe it will help to decipher the meaning behind Master Mikhail Ryabko’s words in this recent interview: 

Question: Is Systema more defense or offensive?

MIKHAIL: If we are talking about real situations, any martial art more is defensive because first you need to survive and then attack. 

Q: What is the most important quality in training and fighting?

MIKHAIL: “As in life in general, the main attribute should be doing everything to glorify God. Note how in the Scriptures, our Lord calls Himself the Son of Man. Do you know why that is? This is to emphasize that all the miracles He created were for other people, none were created for Himself. In one episode the Pharisees and the crowd tried to seize Him, but it was not time for His sacrifice yet. So, what He did was He walked right through the crowd and no one could lay their hands on Him. How did He do that if we know that He did not perform any miracles for Himself…? His movements were so correct and pure that no miracle was needed. He just escaped. This is an example to us of how we should work and act and fight.” “Blessed are the pure in heart…” Systema allows us to attain this. “Also, it is important to differentiate the purpose of our training – either sport or defending your country. Sport generally breeds pride, whereas defending your loved ones, one is ready to sacrifice his life. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” If one is ready to fight for his loved ones, he is only afraid of God and no one else and nothing else. Such a warrior becomes undefeatable. In our training, it is therefore very important to overcome the unwanted fear and emotions. To keep up the fear of God and cleanse our heart from the needless fear, anger, pride and other feelings. We do it through breath work, strengthening/endurance exercises, natural movements and understanding ourselves.”

On May 18 and 19 I am hosting a seminar with Vladimir Vasiliev in Los Angeles and look forward to seeing you there: 

Author: Martin Wheeler is a highly experienced Systema Instructor, certified under Vladimir Vasiliev. Martin is teaching regular Systema classes at the Academy Beverly Hills, California and at international seminars. He has over 30 years of various martial arts practice, teaching and training in Systema since 1998. Martin is contracted to teach SWAT teams and Special Operations Units and is also a produced Hollywood screen writer.

Many Thanks Martin,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Street Crime. A professional perspective by Systema Instructor Joe Mayberry

As a police officer for the past decade, I have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of victims of street crimes. In most all cases, they always stated to me that they were “caught off guard” or did not see the criminal before it was too late. The majority of these crimes would have never happened if the victims were just a little more vigilant.

Major Komarov possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of psychological aspects involving criminals, their intents and methods. His depth of knowledge of the criminal mind rivals that of many high level criminologists and profilers. In addition to his intellect, Major Komarov also has the personal experience of many decades of field work, not only on the battle field but also on the streets. This adds a lot of legitimacy, urgency and authenticity to his presentations, lectures and classes, which most so called “experts” lack.

As one of the privileged to have been in attendance for this class at Systema Camp 2012, I can personally say that the topics, theories, practice and work are all top notch. As someone who has attended classes at the FBI National Academy, I can honestly say that Major Komarov’s presentation is far more superior and relevant to what is even being presented by our own national Law Enforcement departments.

Major Komarov has the great ability to present very serious subject matter in “layman’s terms”. The work and topic, even though it is very serious, is thoughtfully presented to which any citizen can easily retain and put into action.

While starting work as a police officer many years ago, I was told be a veteran officer that in order to catch a criminal, you first needed to think and act like one. Put yourself in the mindset of the criminal and then it will be easy to see the simplicity of their actions in committing a crime. It is then that we can have a foresight into their intent. Major Komarov provides us with the tools to delve into the mind of criminals in a clear and precise manner. And knowing your enemies intent is the majority of the battle. In short, I cannot recommend the presentation of Street Crime more highly.

About the Author: Joe Mayberry has been intensively training and teaching Systema since 2008. He is a USMC Veteran and Detective with the St. Louis Police Dept. Joe has extensive martial arts experience and currently teaches Police, Military and Security personnel. Joe’s school has recently been awarded the best Self Defense Program in St. Louis.
On June 22nd, to celebrate the 3rd year anniversary of Systema St. Louis, Joe will be conducting an 8 hour outdoor workshop. The curriculum is intended to enhance your power, speed and ability to survive, not to mention your armed and unarmed fighting skills. This training is highly recommended by Vladimir Vasiliev.To register visit

Thankyou for your review Joe :)

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

High Tension, Building Strength, Managing Fatigue and Related Questions for Systema

The following Q&A dialogue is between myself and Nathaneal Morrison, Martial Arts/Military Combatives Instructor and Founder of The Morrison System of Physical Training.

Justin Ho:
I have something I am working on which I am asking numerous people about, whom I think may be able to shed light on the matter for me. Like many Systema practitioners I am working on creating a body that is incredibly strong with minimal excess tension, and as adaptable and as free from fear reactivity possible. In order to do this I have been employing a number of strategies; running, swimming, the 4 core exercises, tissue annealing, ground flow, breath work and the full scope of my Systema training.   

I have have been planning to incorporate the work off of Sonny Puzikas's DVD the Forge. I was very impressed with the work and explanations; unconventional 3D movement, strengthening of the connective tissues, creating a strong and adaptable core to serve as a platform to the primary and secondary movers etc.... But most of all the description of “creating a body that is incredibly strong with minimal excess tension”. I wanted to get the most out of the work that I would be doing so I started to consider how frequently I would perform the exercises, and when to alternate between them. A friend of mine mentioned Pavel Tsatsouline's explanation regarding “Greasing the groove, low reps, high intensity, high sets, staying fresh". Given your background I assumed that you were familiar with this gentleman's work. Then when reading the Naked Warrior I came across a photo of you doing a one legged pistol squat holding a kettlebell....Ahhhhhh sooooooo.....   

Anyhow, I acquired some of Pavel's books (Power to the people, Naked Warrior, Relax into Stretching) and began reading. Originally I just wanted to get a bit more information on “Greasing the Groove”, but I continued reading on and was fascinated by his work on developing Strength through “whole body tension” and getting the surrounding muscles to send neuro impulses to the main contracting muscle causing it to contract harder (cheering not cheating) thus developing more strength in less time. By the way correct me if I'm wrong about any of this, as the information at least in this format and description is new to me.   

The information and tools Pavel provided seem like an amazing way to increase functional strength at an incredibly rapid rate. To me Pavel's work and the work I have learned in Systema are 2 different sides of the same coin. Tension/Relaxation for strength i.e. The deepest relaxation can only be achieved in contrast to the greatest tension. However there were a few things I was curious/concerned about regarding integrating this kind of work with my general Systema Training and also the work that Sonny presented in the Forge. I was hoping you might be able to help me out here, as I am not as well versed in such areas:

Nate Morrison: 
a) In response to this: “The deepest relaxation can only be achieved in contrast to the greatest tension.” While this may be technically true at some level, it is not compatible with life and function. The highest tension yields unconsciousness. In a practical setting high tension is very difficult to turn off. Consistent high-tension training resets the resting tonus of the muscle so that it remains shorter (partially contracted). A highly trained athlete is able to functionally contract and relax the muscles further to both ends of the spectrum and up to 900% faster than the average person. This describes the efficiency of the nervous system.
b) Remember that a muscle recovers best when maximally relaxed. So carrying excess tension interferes with acute and chronic recovery. Recovery is required for the best possible second or 102nd rep. Relaxation in actual performance is a state of being in the entire organism.
c) Tension is only needed when you need it. Most of the time you don’t need it but when you do, be able to use it effectively.

Justin Ho:
1. With Pavel's advice using whole body tension such as in the pistol, one armed push up, deadlift or side press. Will this focus on developing predominantly muscle strength, and as a result neglect or reduce development of the strength of the joints, tendons ligaments and connective tissues? What triggered this question for me was work with the static holds, i.e. push up. It seems to me that staying there will result in the muscles fatiguing leaving no choice but for the connective tissues to take the load and eventually grow stronger. This lead me to consider this process in the rest of the material presented in the forge and the rest of my training. Conversely is strengthening of the connective tissues faster achieved by relaxation in the form of fatiguing the musculature?

Nate Morrison:
a) You cannot strengthen a joint. There is nothing to strengthen. 
b) You cannot strengthen connective tissue such as myofascia. While it has a contractile property, it is a chronic capability, not acute and it exerts no force on the structure. The tensile breaking strength actually reduces the more it contracts. 
c) Tendons and ligaments will increase their size, and thus their tensile breaking strength if properly loaded over a long period of time (years). This loading is most effective when it is passive. Active loading (high tension) has some effect but it is limited to the force under time of the muscle contractions. Passive loading such as that occurring during manual labor is the most effective. During manual labor the body is as relaxed as possible to be as efficient as possible. One does not unload a truck or a ship with maximum tension. 
d) It is not wise to attempt to load the tendons and ligaments by exhausting the muscles first. Exhaustion of the muscles will cause overloading of the tendons and ligaments and compromise the safety of the joint. You need muscular contraction, but just enough. A skeleton cannot stand without muscular contraction.

Justin Ho:
2. Through acquiring great gains in strength using whole body tension and the principle of irradiation (contracting the surrounding muscles so their neural impulses cause the main muscle to contract harder) is there a risk of acquiring excess/residual/habitual muscle tension through contraction of the whole body to perform the exercises? If so I figured I would counter this by performing various relaxation exercises between sets i.e. tension/relaxation exercises, gentle ground flow, walking, and even at the completion of a work out performing the 4 core exercises slowly with breath and relaxation to regulate the levels of tension/relaxation in the body. What do you reckon? Is there a risk of acquiring excess/residual/habitual muscle tension through contraction of the whole body to perform the exercises? i.e. Excess tension that lingers and thus impedes freedom?

Nate Morrison:
a) Yes. It is a very poor way to train for life in general. 
b) There is a Russian concept that does not recognize the difference between physical training and physical therapy. Top Russian coaches and athletes do not train into dysfunction and injury, then fix it and then do it again. The very idea is dysfunctional. Don’t do it. 
c) If you want to get brutally strong AND fluid, perform that ground work with a weight vest and ankle/wrist weights. In a short period of time you will literally have to throttle back for fear of tearing door handles off. 
d) Tension is important and should not be neglected. But it is better to know when and how to turn it on and off. One should not train in tension inappropriately. Tension is required when the loads are maximal, above 85-90% 1RM. That is when you need it and that is when you should use it. 
e) Always remember that you become what you do consistently. Period.

Justin Ho:
3. Through utilizing the principle of irradiation and tensing the whole body during the exercises is there the likelihood of developing an inability to selectively isolate muscles to get them to work independently (tensing or relaxing) when needed? i.e. using only what is necessary in a given action allowing the muscles not directly required a chance to rest? If so I thought this could be countered by using selective tension methods between sets. But what's your take on this?

Nate Morrison:
a) Yes
b) See #2

Justin Ho:
4. Would the strength developed by using whole body tension be only available by repeating and thus reinforcing whole body tension as a pattern? It's just that to my mind, to be constantly tense all the time would be incredibly tiring, and also would not allow for free and relaxed movement.

Nate Morrison:
a) Yes

Justin Ho:
5. Having so many awesome tools to use for strength development and only having so many hours in the day to use them. (i.e. The 4 Systema core exercises, Pavel's one arm push up and squat, the Work with and without kettle bells which Sonny presents in the forge, also my own groundflow work, not to mention swimming and running) it's like being a kid in a candy store. I know that generally less is more, and it's better to do a few things well than many poorly, but I can't give up any one of them without feeling like I've been robbed. Yes, I know it's incredibly immature, but I'm sure I'm not the first nor last Systema practitioner to have this dilemma. Any advice?

Nate Morrison:
a) You can do all of these activities but do them as relaxed and efficiently as possible. For example, kettlebell training should be performed in the manner it is taught in Russia. Relaxed, lots of breathing, etc… If you are going to do heavy weight lifting (bench, squat, deadlift) you need high tension for sets where the weight is in excess of 85-90% 1RM. Otherwise it is identical in the quest to do more with less and breath properly. Push-ups of all kinds and pistols are also exercises that should be done with relaxation and breathing.

Nate’s Final Thought: 
High tension is incompatible with anything less than maximal lifts, period. In some cases, especially in high fatigue states it is actually worse and will cause immediate failure or unconsciousness. This can be experienced in a max set of push-ups or 100 rep squats. So use high tension only when you are doing sets of 1-5 reps using weight above 85% 1RM.

Nathaneal Morrison

  • 18-year veteran of USAF & US Army Special Operations 
  • USAF & US Army Instructor in the following areas: Pararescue Instructor/Evaluator; Military Freefall Instructor; Mountain Warfare Instructor; Tactical Medicine Instructor; Physical Training Instructor 
  • Strength & Conditioning Coach 
  • Movement & Mobility Coach 
  • Martial Arts/Military Combatives Instructor 
  • Mountain Guide 
  • Founder of The Morrison System of Physical Training 
  • One of the initial cadre to introduce kettlebells into the United States. 
  • The first to introduce kettle bells to the US Military 
  • Internationally published fitness expert 
  • The leading expert on military fitness training 
  • Extensive work with wounded veterans in the area of mentoring and exercise based corrective physical training 
  • Currently works exclusively with wounded soldiers, world-class professional athletes and military/police recruits

For More information from Nathaneal Morrison visit:

Thankyou for your time and well thought out answers Nate. It is very much appreciated and has truly helped make things clearer for me :)

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art